- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Texarkana Gazette. March 19, 2017.

It was a big deal in the summer of 1976 when producer/director Charles B. Pierce was filming “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” right here in the Twin Cities.

There were quite a few Texarkana residents who had major roles in the film. More than a few appeared as extras. Many still cherish the memories of their time before the camera.

The premiere of the film here that December was big news as well. And the film went on to do very, very well at the box office across the country and around the world. “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” parked a renewed interest in the 1946 attacks attributed to the Phantom Killer. The slayings have since been featured in books, TV shows, documentary films and a 2014 quasi-sequel to Pierce’s film, also called “The Town That Dreaded Sundown.”

The legacy of the 1976 film is still apparent in visitors who come to Texarkana just to see the real town that dreaded sundown. And they sometimes stop by this newspaper, asking questions and looking for directions to the locations of key scenes in the original version.

A lot of filming was done downtown, particularly in the area around Union Station and the Hotel McCartney on Front Street. The station and the restaurant of the hotel were featured, and part of the train deport was used as the police station while the Front Street facade of the McCartney was fashioned into a period movie theater.

You can sometimes see tourists down there taking pictures - which gave us an idea.

Why not put up a sign guiding visitors to filming locations? Perhaps with a brief history of the crimes and the film, as well as photos and a map showing State Line as it was before the Bi-State Justice Building was constructed, with film locations highlighted.

It wouldn’t be too hard to do. And it would serve our visitors well.

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Southwest Times-Record. March 19, 2017.

A pilot program that allowed local shoppers to prepare healthier meals was a great success, and we hope to see it continue.

Between Feb. 15 and March 15, Harps Foods on Grand Avenue in Fort Smith took part in the “Double Up Food Bucks” pilot program for Arkansas. The program allowed shoppers who take part in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to buy twice the amount of fruits and vegetables (“doubling up”) while using the same number of SNAP benefits.

The program was a great success, based on the numbers we saw. We are keeping fingers crossed that funds will become available to keep the program going indefinitely.

What began as a successful farmers market program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture was retooled for grocery store shoppers. The store version partnered Harps Foods with the Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention and the Arkansas Department of Human Services, with the Arkansas River Valley Regional Food Bank as supporters.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman R-Ark., stopped by Harps to see the results for himself. Boozman is co-chairman of the Senate Hunger Caucus and a supporter of Arkansas’ SNAP.

“Anything we can do to get people healthier and stretch dollars further is good,” Sen. Boozman said during his visit.

The senator said that nutrition is fundamental in helping to counteract rising levels of heart disease and diabetes. Maintaining a healthy diet is difficult for families who do not have convenient access to affordable healthy foods, the Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention points out.

Harps Foods is applying for a grant to take the Double Up Food Bucks program statewide. The Grand Avenue store saw sales of some fruits and vegetables increase by 50 percent during this time. In its first week, the store showed a 124.5 percent increase in produce section sales. Overall sales on selected fruits and vegetables at the store showed an increase of 50 percent.

Sebastian County is one of the “top target counties” in the state for food insecurity, Ken Kupchick, former marketing and development director of the River Valley Regional Food Bank, said in mid-February.

The Arkansas Department of Health mobile SNAP van also was on hand at the store to help people sign up for SNAP benefits.

“The fact that the SNAP van can actually go out and sign people up at different places, that’s a good thing. It’s a little easier for them,” Boozman told the Times Record.

The Grand Avenue Harps Food Store is the highest participating SNAP benefit store among the three Harps stores in Fort Smith. There are about 20,000 people on SNAP benefits in Sebastian County, although about 32,000 people are eligible, according to reports.

We’ve learned from people like Charolette Tidwell of Antioch Consolidated for Youth and Family Services that food insecurity in the Fort Smith area is real. Her organization helps to feed thousands of people every month, which makes it evident we’re in a real crisis regarding hunger.

Tidwell was able to get young people involved during the pilot program, as area 10th-graders Yosey Cardenas and America Cruz spent a day at the store handing out healthy, affordable recipes and samples to customers, while also promoting SNAP. Tidwell also worked with Southside High School DECA members Emely Lopez, Jaylin Brewer and Jenny Iraheta, who recently won first place at a recent Arkansas DECA state competition in the category of Financial Literacy Promotion Project, which promoted the Double Up program.

We are grateful to Harps for agreeing to take part in the program, and to the other organizations that helped to get healthier food into the right hands. The program was a success - the numbers don’t lie. And we’re proud of the SNAP participants who took advantage of the “double up” opportunity. We hope their efforts toward healthy eating will continue.

Most of all, we hope to hear in coming weeks that the program will go on. Clearly, SNAP participants took advantage, which means healthier meals for families in our area. Let’s hope stores in our area - and perhaps elsewhere around the state - can continue to make that possible.

___

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. March 21, 2017.

It happens every legislative session, but this year it seems to be happening faster and harder and all across the board: This state’s once model Freedom of Information Act is being converted into the private preserve of selected politicians and the special interests tagging along with them. In a better time, the late great Winthrop Rockefeller and his gallant band of reformers swept into office and, after the long dark night that was Faugress, threw open the blinds and let the sun shine on state government. And all those who believe in Regnat Populus - Let the People Rule! - cheered. For how can We the People rule, and how good will our judgment be, if we’re not told what’s going on in state government?

But once again a group of misguided legislators is drawing a bead on the now much-riddled FOIA Act. For is there any agency of state government that wouldn’t prefer to operate far from the inquisitive eyes of the mere people? If so, it needs to speak up now because the serried ranks of closed government are on the march again. And their object this time is to seal public records that might be the basis of “pending or threatened” lawsuits, a vague description that covers an awful lot of dangerous ground. For what editor in this small, wonderful and ever feisty state isn’t regularly threatened by a lawsuit if he or she dares print some news item or editorial opinion that offends somebody somewhere from Fayetteville to Lake Village, Blytheville to Texarkana?

Maybe if one of these proposals were so narrowly drawn it covered only the legal strategy being considered by a state agency, it might be acceptable. (That’s a big might.) But many of these bills are just scattershot assaults on the public’s right to know. They sound like a solution in search of a problem. Who needs it? Clearly the State of Arkansas doesn’t, but at last count more than 10 bills have been tossed into the hopper trying to add still more loopholes to this state’s open-records law, which is already honored more in principle than practice.

Robert Steinbuch is a professor who teaches law at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, and he literally helped write the book on the Freedom of Information Act and its regular crop of discontents. His considered judgment is that the latest proposed re-do of the FOIA by state Representative Bob Ballinger of Berryville doesn’t do the trick, either. And trick it is when it comes to rewriting a bill whose effect would still be not to fulfill either the spirit or the letter of the FOIA but to gut it.

To indulge in some full disclosure of our own, Dan Greenberg is the son of the Democrat-Gazette’s columnist and editorial writer by the same surname, and here is Greenberg the Younger’s summary of what Representative Ballinger’s bill amounts to: “This bill is the equivalent of taking a forklift into a public agency and moving a file cabinet full of documents from the ‘open-to-the-public’ room into the ‘secrecy’ room.’ “

But there’s still light and hope dawning as this much needed debate continues. Specifically in the form of two proposed bills. One would set up a committee of lawyers that would take a close look when a state agency denies any citizen’s right to ask for a peek at a public record. The bill’s sponsor is state Representative Clarke Tucker of Little Rock, and Professor Steinbuch says it would allow those who ask for a copy of an official record “to seek some redress without the costly, cumbersome and foreign process of going to court.” Hear, hear.

The less needless litigation, the better for any society. After all, it’s the rule of law that a just society seeks, not rule by lawyers. There’s a difference between the two, and how. For where the rule of law ends, there tyranny begins.

The best disinfectant remains sunshine. So let there be light, which surely is the purpose of this state’s Freedom of Information Act, and now is the time for all good men and women to come to its aid.

Word around the campfire is that the House could have already voted on keeping you in the dark by the time you read this. If so, the state Senate would have another shot at killing ol’ SB373.

And if both chambers fail to keep the public’s business public? The governor has, in the past, promised to veto such efforts. Some of us will hold him to it.


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